The weather has been absolutely crazy. For those who say that global warming is a myth, are clearly in major denial. The past couple of days have been below –10. We have gone from one extreme (hot drought in the summer) to the other (cold frost in the winter). This cold weather has gotten me thinking about the homeless. When the cold weather strikes, it is always in the news. What you might not know is that homeless men that crowd the baths, especially during cold weather like this.
Every single one of us is just a few paychecks away from being out on the street. We are all vulnerable to being on the breadline. Gay bathhouses are one place where the destitute stay. Whether they are gay or straight. Yep you read right, plenty of straight men spend the night at the baths. Beggars can’t be choosers as the baths is the one cheap alternative where the poor can stay and be safe. The baths are not free, so the skid row has to stay at shelters. But if the choice were between a shelter (where your life and valuables are in danger) and the gay baths, the baths would win every time.
The baths are a relatively safe environment (drug users and hustlers notwithstanding). You have a warm bed, place to shower and sometimes even free food. If you play your cards right, you even be able to get your laundry done. Every bathhouse has on-site laundry facilities so they can wash (with heavy bleach) cum filled towels. However not every bathhouse will be open to doing your laundry. The majority of bathhouses will say NO. But doesn’t hurt to ask. And if you are a regular customer and charm the laundry guy, maybe he will slip in your clothes. Don’t worry the heavy bleach and extreme hot dryer will kill any cum residue.
You even get entertainment as in free cable. I remember years ago several elderly men would arrive at the baths every night to watch ESPN. They would arrive armed with their dinner, snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks. Planting themselves in front of the TV, fully clothed, they would watch hours of non-stop sports. Unfortunately they were also bad for business. The television was situated in the lobby where potential customers could see them through the cash window. They would see these groups of elderly men sitting watching TV and assume that the crowd was elderly. No one would come in. It got so bad that management had to remove ESPN off the dial so the men would stop coming.
How someone can afford to sleep nightly at the baths is a mystery to me. Where do they get their money if they have no source of income? And if they had money wouldn’t it be cheaper to rent a bachelor? The last statement I can answer. Coming up with first and last months rent, plus key deposit, plus a signed lease, and credit check would be a stretch. With no previous address it is tough. What about a cheap motel? You need a credit card to register, and with no credit what can you do?
It is be overall cheaper to rent a bachelor. But living on a day-to-day basis the only option, other than a homeless shelter, is the baths. Some can’t even afford a room and will get a locker. Then try to find a discreet place to nap. Management does discourage this, rousing up men from their nap. But it is hard to police. So it is not uncommon to sometimes see fully dressed men sleeping on the patio at 3AM. When I walk into the gay tubs at the crack of dawn, I will encounter some of the homeless who are just leaving. There 8 hours are up and it is time to check out. These are ordinary people; you would pass on the street. Not even realizing they are without a home.
Bathhouses don’t encourage the homeless to spend the night at the baths. But they don’t discourage it either. Unless the person is a real nuisance, they really don’t have any reason to refuse entry to someone who lives on the streets. As long as they are not dirty, relatively clean, and don’t smell they are fine. No worries about encountering men who reek of odor. But the name of the game at the baths is the revolving door of men who come and go. Turning over rooms quickly for the next customer coming in. The more guys who check in and check out, the more money bathhouses make. If you have guys spending all 8 hours at the baths, there is less money to be made. Which is why when midnight comes the music is played at FULL BLAST. It adds to the entertainment value of the cruising that goes on in the hallways. But also discourages people from wanting to sleep over. But who can sleep with dance music that loud? Some get around that rule by figuring out which rooms are the quietest from the music. They will even go as far as to wait until a certain room opens up. Good night’s sleep is important.
Though I would see homeless guys (both gay and straight) all the time, I’ve only gotten to know a handful. One guy I remember was from England, looking for work. He had no place to stay, but managed to pick up work that was cash only. So he would go to work during the day and at night arrive at the baths as if it were his home. Another guy who seemed completely straight (and morbidly obese) was going thorough a separation from his wife. I suspect he came out to her, and she kicked him out. With a low paying job, his choices were limited. Like the guy from England he too treated the baths as his home. So night after night he would arrive at the baths to spend the night.
And then there was Kirk. Every time I saw him he was always up beat and in a good mood. Identifying as bi-sexual He is completely comfortable in his own skin. Hanging around the baths in his towel, shooting pool and guzzling beer. Early one morning I walked in and there was Kirk sitting at the bar sipping coffee. Kirk was down in the dumps that morning which was a surprise to me. He was taking advantage of the complimentary breakfast, fully dressed and drinking coffee. I asked him what was up and he answered rather sadly that everything had gone wrong. He kicked his addiction and was now a certified drug counselor. But he couldn’t get any work, lost his housing and was now living at the baths. He asked himself what had gone wrong? He did everything he was supposed to. Followed all the rules to stay clean. And now he is living on the streets? He wondered to himself why he even bothered to get off of drugs. At least being on drugs he was part of a community, he had access to services as a junkie, and could even make cash selling drugs. Now where was he? Spending his nights at the baths, and wandering the streets during the day wondering what he could do next. Lugging his coffee pot, a huge knapsack and a suitcase on wheels.
People he thought were his friends dropped off the face of the earth. And he cut all his ties with his junkie friends. Only one person was helping him by giving him a job in his restaurant. Making just enough cash everyday to rent a room at the baths. Then he started to cry. I was at a loss for words, because I didn’t know what to say. I had never seen anyone look that defeated. Here was someone who I thought had it all together. Now he was totally sober, but still hit rock bottom. So what was the point of getting clean? There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say and I felt so helpless. So I did give him a free pass to the baths. That way he wouldn’t have to spend any money when he returned later that evening. I saw him a few days later on the street. He was with someone and looked much better. I didn’t get any details and I haven’t seen him since. So hopefully everything has worked out.
But not all homeless stories are that sad and depressing. Antoine is from a rather large metropolitan city. He is in his thirties but decided to throw caution to the wind. Antoine came here with no job, but aspirations of living in a bigger city. He found some work and a roommate. But a few missteps he found himself with no job and no place to stay. Most guys usually spend their nights at the baths, and spend their days on the streets. But Antoine does the opposite. For him it is a homeless shelter during the evening and the baths during the day. How he found a safe homeless shelter is a mystery to me. Before he lost his housing he was always telling me that he wanted to go back to home. I recently asked him that. Why are you still here with no housing, no job, and very few opportunities? Few months ago he was threatening to leave. So why is he still here? Antoine told me even though he comes from a big city, this city is even bigger. Despite being homeless and jobless, he doesn’t want to leave. There is more opportunity, more fun and a better atmosphere.
Nobody wants to be homeless and living out on the streets. These men are just like you and me, so there is no reason to be afraid of them. And at least these guys are surviving at the gay baths no less.